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Posts Tagged ‘Craftivist Collective’

Since I started my Visible Mending Programme, I have met many inspirational people, people who make me think about what I stand for, who ask me questions about my motivations and my beliefs. One such person is Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective.

Whitby Sweater, Tom and Sarah Corbett Craftivist Collective

Sarah and me discussing the finer details of darning as activism

Sarah has been involved in activism since the age of three, and as an introvert, she never felt really comfortable with the confrontational methods of “in-your-face protesting and shouting” activism, and when she had an activism burn-out, she went searching for a different way of tackling prejudice, injustice, corruption and inequality. As a result, she founded the Craftivist Collective in 2009. Sarah has since worked with the likes of Unicef, Secret Cinema, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Bauhaus University. In collaboration with www.1215.today she launched The School of Gentle Protest two weeks ago. During a six-week curriculum you will learn the art of gentle protest. Each week sees a different visiting professor, and I was invited to talk about Inner Activism in week 2.

School of Gentle Protest, Tom of Holland

If you have concerns about social or political issues, but, like me, you’re not a very outgoing or confrontational person, then you’re sometimes left wondering whether there’s anything you can do in a way that feels more true to who you are. On my Visible Mending journey I have frequently spoken to people like Sarah, or John-Paul Flintoff, and those conversations have made me realise that yes, there is something I can do.

The very act of darning can be very meditative and give you the head space to think about issues that concern you. Whenever I teach a darning workshop, my students often get completely absorbed by the task at hand, and it seems to me that the communal silence gives people a feeling of connection, and we end up talking about all sorts of things: memories triggered by a darning mushroom, the realisation that mending can be fun and creative, and creating an understanding of the societal constructions of fashion and the emotions around repaired clothes. I highly recommend you read this thoughtful blog post by Katie Smith, who already enrolled in the School of Gentle Protest, and did some visible mending.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

A darning workshop during Shetland Wool Week 2013

I think the main things I’ve learnt, is that to be actively involved in making a difference to the world you live in, whether your an introvert or an extrovert, is:

  1. to make sure you’re informed about the issues you worry about
  2. to be thoughtful
  3. to do what YOU can do
  4. to find peace with the fact that you can’t do everything
  5. to be inspired, and to be an inspiration

If you want to know what else Sarah and I discussed, then please watch our video:

If you feel inspired, then you can still join The School of Gentle Protest here. Meanwhile, if you want to do some homework, then I would like to ask you to do some visible mending, post it on social media, and hashtag it with #visiblemending. This way you can be an inspiration to other visible menders, and find inspiration for your own visible mending project.

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I’m not entirely sure when I started my obsession with denim yarn, but what I do know, is that the first time I read about it, was on the ever entertaining Mason-Dixon Knitting blog. Knitting with cotton is quite a departure for somebody who is totally committed to wool, but knitting something with the intent of shrinking it took it immediately to a whole new level I had never entered before!

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, pre-wash

My Whitby Sweater before the nerve-wracking boil wash: hem to shoulder measures 30in (76cm)

The yarn I used is a denim yarn: it is rope-dyed with indigo (rope-dyed means it is dyed after the yarn is spun, just like the threads used for making denim fabric) and this means the yarn is not dyed through to the core. Over time it will fade, just like love-worn jeans. When I posted an knitting-in-progress picture on Instagram late last year, a student brought along her 20 year old denim sweater to a darning workshop.

Old Denim Yarn Sweater with fading

An old denim knit: 20 years old, and still going strong

The colour fades over the years due to wash and wear, but only where it’s exposed. So in all the nooks and crannies of each stitch, the darker colour remains, and it makes the cables really pop. The effect is so beautiful, and this made me realise that my sweater is not just slow fashion, but Extreme Slow Fashion: in 20 years time, mine will look as beautiful as this one, and be incredibly soft.

The other thing that makes for such a beautiful knit, is the super-tight gauge for the yarn weight. Unlike my Cornish Knit-frock, which was wrested from 5-ply Guernsey yarn on fine needles, the denim yarn knit gets its tight gauge from something else altogether: a boil wash. Yes, you throw your jumper fresh from the needles into a hot wash and wait for it to shrink!

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, post-wash

After a boil wash, my sweater shrunk a whole 4in (10cm) and now hem-to-shoulder measures 26in

Denim yarn patterns take this shrinkage into account, and nobody has written better patterns for denim yarn than Jane Gottelier, who founded the Artwork knitwear label in 1977, together with her husband Patrick. In 2007 they released a knitting pattern book called “Indigo Knits” and it’s this book the Whitby Sweater pattern comes from. The book is full of hints and tips on how to get the best out of your denim yarn, from that all-important first wash, to fake fading with bleach.

It’s a good thing I’m a very patient person, as I don’t like pre-distressed clothes. It never looks quite right in my eyes. Nothing beats authentic ageing, particularly when it comes to denim. So no bleach to highlight cables for me, just years of wash and wear ahead of me.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, cable eleganza

Cables that pop, thanks to the shrinking process

Most denim yarn knitting patterns advise you to knit a garment in pieces, and throw them in a hot wash, together with some extra yarn, so that everything shrinks before you sew it up with the shrunk extra yarn. However, I found out through Kay from Mason-Dixon Knitting that Artwork tended to sew up their garments before the hot wash. So if it’s good enough for a luxury fashion label, it is good enough for me! I’ve grown really fond of the exposed three-needle bind-off as a way of seaming sweaters, so I used this method on all the seams here, too.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, 3-needle bind-off shoulder seam

Three-needle bind-off for the shoulder seam…

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, 3-needle bind-off side seam

…And for the side and underarm seams

Another finishing touch I really like, is the transition of the main fabric to the collar, by way of some crochet.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, crochet chain collar transition

My favourite neckline finish with a crochet chain

I bind off all sweater pieces, seam the shoulders, and I then crochet a chain all around the neckline. I like this because it makes for a stable opening that doesn’t stretch out of shape; something that is particularly important for this heavy cotton cable knit. I then pick up a stitch through each chain to knit the collar. I used another little trick here: the first few rows were knitted on the same needle size as elsewhere for the ribbing, but after five rows I used a needle one size smaller, and after another five rows, I went down yet another needle size to complete the funnel neck.

One thing I was a bit nervous about, was sewing in ends. Although this denim yarn isn’t as slippery as a mercerised cotton, I did notice that during knitting it, knots from knotting together the end of one ball to the beginning of the next, easily came undone. So I left very long tails, and all wove them in in the same direction in the seams, so that they would be able to shrink, without puckering up the seams.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, tail ends inside

Erm, yes, that is a tail (and knot!) NOT at the end of a row…

I really enjoyed knitting this sweater. It was a slow knit, but compared to how long I’m planning to wear it, it was done in a flash, and I’m dreaming about designing my own sweater in denim yarn. So I’ll share the only picture I have so far of me wearing it. You can see me in conversation with Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective. We had a really lovely afternoon together, and I can’t wait to share with you what we have been up to, so keep an eye for a new blog post soon!

Whitby Sweater, Tom and Sarah Corbett Craftivists Collective

Sarah Corbett, me, and That Sweater

 

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During a paper I gave at In the Loop 4, I mentioned a blurring of boundaries: when does a garment start, and when does it end? Musings about Taking time, Woolly Comrade Felicity ‘Felix’ Ford’s Slow Wardrobe project, and having conversations with other friends who make clothes to last, have culminated into my own thoughts about a Slow Wardrobe.

Brioche Sweater and grafitti

My Brioche Sweater: a recently completed garment. Or is it?

Since I started repairing with purpose, I’m slowly but surely drifting away from the idea that once the last loose end has been woven in, a garment is finished. Over time, clothes start to develop signs of wear, of having been washed, of having been used. Inevitably, an edge starts to fray, a seat wears thin, or a hole appears, and the time comes I’ll be getting out my darning needle. By making my mends visible, I continue adding to the garment. A beautiful mend can be worn as a badge of honour, and in my view, augments and alters the garment repaired.

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

Darning the threadbare yoke seam of a flannelette shirt

A shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet. This idea is perhaps easier to embrace where it concerns clothes I made myself, but I now extend it to the clothes I buy. I frequently purchase secondhand clothes, and they already show signs of wear, and the time to repair something usually comes along sooner.

Tom spinning a yarn

Spinning a yarn

Conversely, making my own clothes has made me question at what point a garment starts. When you buy something, you could be led to believe that your garment’s life starts when you’ve handed over your cash. But this, of course, isn’t true. Somebody somewhere has laid out cloth, cut it up, seamed it, pressed it. Most likely different people were involved in different stages and many things are now mechanised.

When making your own clothes, you get to choose the fabric or yarn, the pattern, the buttons, and put it all together into a garment. You could argue that the item starts its life when you clapped your eyes on that beautiful tweed, or when you dreamt up that Christmas jumper and you started looking for the right yarn. Now that I also spin, even if as yet I haven’t spun enough of one yarn to make a whole jumper, my boundary has shifted even further back: it is possible to make a garment-specific fibre, so really, its life starts there. In fact, we can take it back right to the beginning: wool, linen, silk, and cotton are all fibres that theoretically I could grow or farm myself.

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill spinning a yarn or two

So even if I’m not personally involved in all the process steps from farming to harvesting to processing of fibres, and subsequently turning the resulting cloth or yarn into a garment, I’m aware that all these steps are part of the story. If you want to get an understanding of some of the issues around the fashion industry, then there’s no better way than trying to make something yourself. When you wash your raw fleece, you’ll notice how much water you use. When you spin a yarn, you understand how difficult it can be to get something just right. When you sew a shirt, you get a feel for how complicated sewing can be. Try and imagine any of these processes on an industrial scale, and soon all sorts of questions pop up: how can we grow/farm fibres in huge quantities? What happens with waste water from processing fibres and dyeing it? What happens to by-products and waste from the spinning process? How can somebody sew 50 shirts a day? How are prices of clothing set on the High Street?

These are just a few questions, and answering them is difficult, and fixing things that appear to be a problem is also very complicated. So what can I do about it myself? Talking to people such as Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective, or reading John-Paul Flintoff’s book Sew Your Own, made me realise that there will be things I personally cannot influence, but there are other things I can do something about. I can run workshops, I can volunteer, I can decide what goes into my wardrobe, and I can share my experiences in this blog.

A follow-up post is in the making, in which I want to share with you my thoughts about my Slow Wardrobe: what does it mean to me? Sewing and knitting my own clothes, making things that last, repairing things, and thinking about long-term style, not short-term fashion.

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Welcome to the third stop on the blog tour about A Little Book of Craftivism! I’ve been following Sarah Corbett and her Craftivist Collective events for a couple of years now, and I was very excited to hear she was working on A Little Book of Craftivism. The book is now released (you can buy it here,) and I have been invited to take part in a blog tour (other tour stops at the bottom of this blog.)

Crafty-template-for-main-images

Sarah’s Little Book of craftivism provides a wealth of information and ideas for those people who do care about social issues, but don’t feel comfortable running around with a placard and shouting out loud, for whatever reason. In fact, Sarah called herself a burnt-out activist doing just that. She decided to do things differently, and she found other ways to get her voice heard. A Little Book of Craftivism not only shares the journey from a lone Craftivist to a whole Craftivist Collective, but it also shows you how you can join in. And that’s the great thing about it all: you cannot do all of these things on your own, so you can either join an existing project (you can see what’s going on at the Craftivist Collective website,) start your own event as part of one of these projects, or be inspired to highlight an issue that’s important to you and find out how to engage other people.

The first time I got wind of Sarah planning her book, was when she asked around on twitter how one would describe craftivism in 140 characters. I replied with: “@craftivists shows, inspires and facilitates craftsters to unite their individual creative powers to raise awareness of social issues.” As Sarah is someone who inspires me and many other people, I wanted to know who inspires her. Sarah said:

“I’m inspired by many people from political leaders such as Martin Luther King & Ghandi, filmmakers shining a light on injustices but making hopeful films to inspire us all to be the change we wish to see in the world and see that individuals can make a difference. I’m inspired reading the magazine Dumbo Feather which is in depth interviews with inspiring people around the world doing innovative, kind work & by people I meet who see a need and decide that they have the skills & passions to tackle them such as JP Flintoff who wrote ‘How to Change the World’ book for The School of Life series.” [as an aside, I can recommend Flintoff’s book, too!]

After talking to Sarah a few times, and now having read the book I realised that standing at the back and saying: “oh yes, that looks like a really good idea” just isn’t going to cut the mustard. My way of craftivism is often of a very practical nature: like helping out Fran from Skulls and Ponies to take pictures when she handed her “Don’t Blow It” Hanky to Caroline Lucas, MP.

Obviously I jumped at the chance to support Sarah with a Pop-Up Craftivist event at Brighton and Hove Museums, helping people to stitch a thoughtful message on a footprint.

SarahCorbettCraftivist1

Sarah Corbett and her Pop-Up Craftivist Kit enter Brighton Museum

SarahCorbettPopUpCraftivistKit

The Pop-Up Craftivist Kit, with inspirational slogan in case the chips are momentarily down

Earlier this year I went to Lisa-Anne Auerbach’s Chicken Stricken workshop at Prick Your Finger (Chicken Strikken is a 21st century  interpretation of a 1970s Danish movement, using subversive knitwear design to highlight social issues and feminism.) There, we talked about putting personal slogans and messages on your clothes, and how in this opinionated world where everybody can and does use social media to raise their voice, many people still feel a great reluctance to wear a jumper with a statement like the ones Craftivists often embroider on hankies, masks and mini-banners. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sarah Corbett without her craftivist belt: so I wanted to know how she felt about wearing a statement as part of her outfit. Her reply:

“I think a lot before I stitch any slogan in my craftivism work to make sure it’s not attacking the reader, it’s not negative and it’s not telling people what to do (which can stop people thinking deeply about the issues). I always try and make the slogans hopeful, clearly links to social justice, positive and provocative so people are interested in thinking more about what it means to them and their role in society. The response has been really positive with people asking me what my belt means, or a badge I’m wearing or my banners hanging up & are often a great tool as a catalyst for a respectful conversation. If my slogans where telling people “the answer” then I would feel reluctant to wear then too because it seems very top down and possibly arrogant which is why I stick to provoking thought in an encouraging way.”

Since reading A Little Book of Craftivism, I think that the craftivism-mindset has managed to permeate more of my crafty pursuits.  I care a lot about sustainable fashion and a Slow Wardrobe. No need to chuck out a favourite, comfortable jumper if it has a hole: you can repair it instead, and wear your darn as a badge of honour! This has always been one of the drivers to run my darning workshops, but I now make sure to emphasise this during my classes. I also stress that I’ve learnt through making my own clothes (knitting and sometimes sewing) that it takes time, skill, and effort to make garments, and that this actually also applies to the clothes you buy in the High Street. I ask my darning class attendees to think about how it is possible that these clothes are so cheap; and to honour the invisible, but skilled person who has stitched it together for you, by making sure they last as long as possible. And another aside: I hope to make it to the next Sew It Forward event this Thursday, where Zoe Robinson from The Good Wardrobe has teamed up with John-Paul Flintoff, to share skills, and to ask you: who made your clothes?

All this to say: I can heartily recommend A Little Book of Craftivism; you can find out what others have to say about it here:

2nd December: Crafty Magazine http://www.craftymag.com/

3rd December: Helen Le Caplain http://mancunianvintage.com/

4th December: Tom Van Deijnen https://tomofholland.com/

5th December: Laura Kim http://www.otesha.org.uk/blog


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